Yankees' Don Larsen pitches World Series perfect game in '56

(Originally published by the Daily News on October 9, 1956. This story was written by Joe Trimble.)

The imperfect man pitched a perfect game yesterday. Don Larsen, a free soul who loves the gay life, retired all 27 Dodgers in the classic pitching performance of all time as the Yankees won the fifth game, 2-0, at the Stadium and took a 3-2 edge in the set. In this first perfect World Series game, he made but 97 pitches, threw three balls to only one batter, and fanned seven. A man must be lucky as well as good to reach such an incredible height and Don got four breaks, a “foul homer” which missed being fair by inches, and three superb fielding plays on line drives.

This was the first perfect game pitched since righthander Charley Robertson of the White Sox did it against Detroit on April 30, 1922. Larsen’s was the first Series no-hitter, of course. There have been three one-hitters. Don, an affable, nerveless man who laughs his way through life, doesn’t know how to worry. And that was his greatest asset in the pressure cauldron that was the big Bronx ball park in the late innings, with the crowd of 64, 519 adding to the mounting tension with swelling roars and cheers as one grim-faced Dodger after another failed to break through his serves.

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With the tension tearing at their nerves and sweat breaking out on the palms of the onlookers, Larsen seemed to be the calmest man in the place. He knew he had a perfect game and was determined to get it. In the ninth inning, though inwardly tense, he kept perfect control of himself and the ball. Only when pinch hitter Dale Mitchell was called out on strikes to become the 27th dead Dodger, did Larsen show emotion.

A grin broke across his face as Yogi Berra dashed up to him. Berra jumped wildly into Don’s arms, the pitcher grabbing and carrying the catcher like a baby for a few strides. Then the entire Yankee bench engulfed the pair of them and ushers and cops hustled the ball players off the field and into the safety of the dugout before the crowd could get at them.

The Yankee fielders ran up to shake his hand and Don had a special hug for Mickey Mantle, whose fourth-inning homer had given him a lead and whose great catch of a liner by Gil Hodges had saved things in the fifth.

New York Daily News cover on October 9, 1956.

New York Daily News cover on October 9, 1956.

(New York Daily News) New York Daily News article on Larsen's perfect game in 1956.

New York Daily News article on Larsen’s perfect game in 1956.

(New York Daily News) New York Daily News article on Larsen's perfect game in 1956.

New York Daily News article on Larsen’s perfect game in 1956.

(New York Daily News) New York Daily News article on Larsen's perfect game in 1956.

New York Daily News article on Larsen’s perfect game in 1956.

(New York Daily News)

Andy Carey, who has been the sloppiest man in the Series afield, also helped on two plays. The third baseman deflected Jack Robinson’s liner in the second inning, leaping and pawing the ball to shortstop Gil McDougald who made the throw to first in time. The play wasn’t close.

Carey’s other contribution came in the eighth when the pressure was on everybody. Hodges was the hitter then, too. Gil took a half swing and hit a low liner which Andy gloved one-hand, bobbled a bit and then held while on the run.

The other nod from Lady Luck didn’t involve a fielder. In the fifth inning, Sandy Amoros drove a screaming liner into the right-field stands. But it veered to the right side of the foul pole, missing by about four inches. Larsen then got the little Dodger to ground out to Billy Martin and end the inning.

The party of the second part in this incredible sizzler was the man who may have been pitching his last World Series game, Sal Maglie. The 39-year old right hander, who had won the opener of the Series, pitched a handsome game, himself.

Sal gave up but five hits and Mantle’s home run was the only one until the sixth, when the Bombers made three more and gained their other run. Maglie whiffed five, fanning the side in the eighth. Sal retired the first two batters, before Mantle hit into the right-field seats.

That was the switcher’s third of this Series and eighth altogether. Sal pitched him outside to a 2-2 count and then came inside, where Mickey likes ’em as a lefty batter.

Yankees catcher Yogi Berra leaps into Don Larsen's arms at the end of Game 5.

Yankees catcher Yogi Berra leaps into Don Larsen’s arms at the end of Game 5.

(AP)

The other run developed in the sixth after Carey led off with a single to center and Larsen bunted him along. Bauer cracked a hard grounder through the left side. Amoros charged it and might have had a chance to get Carey at the plate but the fielder momentarily bobbled the ball.

Joe Collins followed with the third hit of the inning, Bauer taking third. The crowd looked for more heroics from Mantle, the next batter, but it was the Dodger infield which drew the cheers. Hodges grabbed Mickey’s hot smash with his foot on first base and then threw to Campanella to hang up Bauer in a rundown. Campy made a poor peg during the chase but Robinson dove for it and made a return throw while on his knees. Then Jack jumped up and took the toss from Roy and tagged Mickey near third base.

Larsen struck out the first two batters of the game, Gilliam and Reese. It was Pee Wee who got the farthest with Don, working the count to 3-2 before ump Babe Pinelli called him out.

Robinson led off the second inning and hit a screamer. Carey’s glove darted upward as he leaped and the ball hit it. By the grace of providence, the deflection was toward McDougald who scooped up the bounding ball for a simple play at first.

Maglie was the next man to hit a ball hard but his third-out liner in the third inning went right at Mantle, who was playing him shallow.

There was one out in the fifth when Hodges crashed a long line drive to left-center. Mantle raced over and made a spectacular backhand catch on the full run. That ball would have been a homer in Brooklyn, as it was hit over 880 feet.

dnp; atx;

Don Larsen first pitch of Game 5 to Gilliam. Larsen hurled first perfect game in World Series history, 2-0, to give Bombers a 3-2 lead in Series in 1956.

(Frank Hurley)

In the eighth, Larsen made his lone fielding play when he grabbed Robinson’s hard hopper with his glove-hand. Then it was that Hodges stroked the liner which Carey intercepted a few inches off the ground, juggled while leaning over and running, and then held. The spectators shouted wildly when Don completed the inning with a soft fly out by Amoros.

The crowd gave Larsen a tremendous hand when he came up to bat in the eighth, standing up to applaud. Then, after the Yankees were retired, he went back to the mound to get the last three outs – the three men who stood between him and baseball immortality.

The Dodgers, still trying to win, dug in. Carl Furillo fouled off a couple and then flied to Hank Bauer in right field. Campy belted a long drive into the upper left-field seats but it was foul by many yards, then grounded weakly to Martin. Mitchell then came up to bat for Maglie and the Stadium rocked with roars of anticipation.

The first pitch to the left-swinger was a fast one which was on the outside, high. Then Don got a low curve over for a strike. Then another fast ball which Mitchell swung at and missed.

Now, for the first time, Larsen was visibly affected. There he stood, one strike away from the most amazing feat in Series history. Don stepped off the mound, turned around to look at the outfielders and took off his hat. Then he threw another curve that Mitch fouled.

Casey Stengel then moved two of the outfielders, Mantle and Bauer, a few feet to the left. Mitchell, a slap hitter, seldom pulls the ball to right. Besides, Berra was going to call for a fast ball.

OCT. 8, 1956 FILE PHOTO

Don Larsen signing a baseball for Brooklyn Dodgers manager Walter O’Malley.

(AP)

Don, who pitches without a windup, then made his next throw, a fast ball letter high and as Pinelli’s right hand went up, the whole baseball world-exploded.

The fans at radio and TV sets all over the nation knew it was a perfect game all the way. Announcers Vince Scully and Mel Allen didn’t try to disguise it in that silly superstition that to talk about it would jinx the pitcher.

So, an incredible character who laughs at training rules, reads comic books, and describes himself as “the nightrider,” has become the classic pitcher in all baseball legend. His has been a fantastic season.

He started it with an escapade in St. Petersburg during spring training, when he drove his car into an electric light pole after falling asleep at the wheel at five o’clock in the morning. Instead of fining him, Stengel used psychology and named Don as opening day pitcher. He won, beating Washington.

Then Don went bad and had to be removed from the starting rotation. He showed some flashes as a reliever and was reinstated as a starter in the last two months of the season. Over the last month, Larsen was the Yankee’s best pitcher, with two four-hitters and a three-hitter, as well as a string of four victories to the finish.

He started the second game of the Series Friday at Ebbets Field and helped blow the 6-0 lead in the second inning. So, in his up-and-down way of life, he came back with the first perfect Series game.

The best previous demonstration of perfection was by Herb Pennock, Yankee lefthander, who went seven and one-third innings against the Pirates in the 1927 Series before allowing a base runner. Schoolboy Rowe of Detroit matched that span against the Cards in 1934 after St. Louis had scored two runs.

The three one-hitters were pitched by Ed Reulbach for the Cubs against the White Sox in 1906, Claude Passeau of the Cubs against Detroit in 1945 and Floyd Bevens. Yankee righthander who went eight and two-thirds innings in the 1947 set, only to lose the game on Cookie Lavagetto’s pinch-double with two out in the ninth.

So, the whole country last night was toasting Don Larsen – and that’s quite a switch. The toast? “Larsen, that’s all!”

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